Erik Bakich made the first of his weekly appearances on WTKA for the 2014 season this morning (podcast), providing a good preview of the upcoming Michigan baseball campaign, which begins Friday down in Texas.
The focus here is on who's playing which position. In addition to what Bakich said, this overview is also based on the current game notes.
Starting pitchers: Every starter returns from last year—fifth-year seniors Logan McAnallen and Ben Ballantine, juniors James Bourque and Trent Szkutnik, and sophomore Evan Hill. They'll get the bulk of the innings. The game notes have probable starters for this weekend as Bourque and Szkutnik for games 1 and 2 on Friday, Ballantine on Saturday, and Hill on Sunday. Bakich talked about the importance of his hurlers being able to consistently throw multiple types of pitches for strikes. McAnallen and Ballantine had shown this ability in the past; the other three have made tremendous improvement in this area since last season.
Bullpen: Bakich didn't discuss the bullpen extensively, but sophomore Jacob Cronenworth will be the closer. In his freshman year, when he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors, he had a 1.93 ERA and seven saves in 15 appearances; yesterday, he was named to the Stopper of the Year watch list. Michigan returns two other players who had extensive bullpen duties last season, senior Alex Lakatos and junior Matt Ogden. Bakich mentioned that freshman Jackson Lamb will be a two-way player, seeing time in the outfield and pitching in relief. He'll be brought along slowly, with his role likely increasing as the season progresses. The game notes mention two other freshman who are expected to have roles as relievers—Brett Adcock and Keith Lehmann.
Outfield: The biggest losses on the team from last year are starting outfielders Patrick Biondi and Michael O'Neill, both now playing professional ball. Zach Zott returns and will continue to be the starting left fielder. Bakich talked about how much more depth his team has this year than last year, and this is evident in the outfield, where he expects at least three players to see action in center and right—juco transfer Jackson Glines and two freshmen, Lamb and Johnny Slater. The game notes show the probable starters as Zott in left, Glines in center, and Slater in right. Bakich also mentioned that juniors Kyle Jusick and Kevin White might see some action in the outfield.
Infield: Coming off his stellar freshman season, sophomore Travis Maezes will continue to be the starting shortstop. Also anchoring the infield will be Cronenworth. But while he split time last season at second and third, this season Cronenworth will be the starter at either third or first, depending on whether the opposing team is starting a right-handed pitcher or a southpaw. Also playing some first will be juco transfer Kendall Patrick. Three freshmen will see action at second and third—Hector Gutierrez, Ramsey Romano, and Trey Miller. The game notes show the probable starters as Cronenworth at first, Gutierrez at second, Maezes at short, and Romano at third.
Catcher: Senior Cole Martin returns as the starter; he was named third-team All-Big Ten last year. He'll be helped out by Patrick and freshman Harrison Wenson.
Offense in general: Strategy will remain the same as last season, with the aim to play fast, be very aggressive both at the plate and on the bases, and put pressure on the opposing team. Many of the newcomers have speed and athleticism.
With all the starting pitchers back from last season, along with some key position players, as well as a raft of talented newcomers, Michigan is expected to improve on their 5th place finish in the Big Ten last season when their record was 14-10 in the conference and 29-27 overall. So far, the conference previews have picked them to finish third or fourth.